Whitey Herzog discusses how special implant helped save his hearing

ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – St. Louis baseball legend and Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog is well-versed when it comes to talking baseball. Now for the first time, the former Cardinals manager is sitting down in an exclusive interview to talk about his hearing loss and how the decision to get a cochlear implant ultimately changed his life.

There’s nothing like the sound of a packed Busch Stadium, fans going wild, hall of famers back home and old teammates swapping stories. That is, unless you can’t hear it.

“I’m sitting there like a dummy. Maybe it was understanding 30, 40 percent of what they were saying. Nodding my head, yeah, and I didn’t know what the heck was goin’ on,” Herzog said.

In 1968, Herzog was the director of product development for the New York Mets. One day while on a flight for work, he noticed a pop in his left ear. He immediately saw a doctor, who told him he was young, healthy, and would eventually regain his hearing. But he never did.

Twelve years later, Whitey finally got his first set of hearing aids.

Cochlear Audiologist Liz Kohl said too often she hears of similar stories where people wait too long to get help.

“People don’t have to wait those 7, 10, 12 years with hearing loss,” Kohl said. “That they can find out that there are other options, there are hearing aids, cochlear implants, and different solutions that can really help them benefit.”

In November 2015, Whitey decided to get the cochlear implant and he’s never looked back.

“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “It’s changed my life. I didn’t realize how much I was missing.”

Without the cochlear implant, Whitey has no functional hearing in his left ear. With it, he can understand 80 percent of words. Cochlear implants could be a solution for nearly two million people in the United States, but only five percent of Americans are utilizing that option.

“People get scared of that. They don’t want to go get the operation, they think someone is going to cut their head apart,” Herzog said. “It’s like you’ve got a manufacturing plant hanging on the side of your head.”

Fortunately, he said that’s all just hype.

“She took me at 6:30 in the morning and I was home before noon and recovering and went home,” Herzog said. “It was nothing. Then a month later, they hooked me up to the cochlear.”

Whitey admits he’ll occasionally cover up his cochlear with a ball cap, but said looks aren’t everything.

“Don’t worry about how it looks. Three months you won’t care how it looks because you’ll be hearing so well.”

According to Kohl, the cochlear can work for anyone from infants on up.

“There’s actually no upper age limit. What we’re finding is that with the growing baby boomer population, we’re seeing a very high incidence of hearing loss, and so those are actually our largest number of recipients,” Kohl said.

Nearly 50 million Americans are affected by hearing loss. Most of them wait years before seeking help. Kohl says if you have concerns or think you could benefit from a hearing test, start with your general care physician. You can also visit COCHLEAR.COM for more information about the Cochlear Implant like the one Herzog uses.